April 20, 2024

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Territory’s Edge – The Best New Metal and Hardcore of August 2023, featuring Spirit Adrift, Creak, and more

August was a stacked month for metal releases.  Notably, deathcore legends Job for a Cowboy came back to ride again with “The Agony Seeping Storm”.  The song marks their first new music in nine years.  Atmospheric black metal band Wolves in the Throne Room gave fans a taste of their upcoming four-track EP with the dynamic “Twin Mouthed Spring”.  Death metal releases included Dead and Dripping‘s brutal and technical Blackened Cerebral Rifts – particularly impressive once you realize this is just a one-man project – and the Neo-classical-influenced death thrash of Exmortus.  Meanwhile, on the progressive metalcore side, August had fantastic new singles from Silent Planet, Spiritbox, Imminence, Erra, Termina, and more.

This month had its share of strong debut releases as well.  Lowheaven, led by vocalist/guitarist Dan Thomson (ex-Sparrows) introduced themselves with a four-song EP exhibiting a harsh post-metal/screamo sound.  Lions at the Gate, an alternative metal band composed of former Ill Niño members, released their first album The Excuses We Cannot Make.  Creak released their promising nu metal/mathcore debut on Prosthetic Records.  Read on to explore some of the best new releases across the heavy metal spectrum this month.


Humanity’s Last Breath – Ashen

Ashen is one of the heaviest albums you’ll hear this year.  On this band’s third album on Unique Leader Records, and fifth overall, every track is foreboding and relentless.  Humanity’s Last Breath achieves this through an ominous, desolate atmosphere that builds up to each barrage of sonic destruction.  Buster Odeholm’s dissonant, heavy guitar riffs, paired with some excellent production, contribute to this massive sound.

A soundscape of impending doom (not to be confused with the deathcore band behind Nailed. Dead. Risen.) is maintained throughout all 47 minutes, including the short transitional instrumental “Burden”.  However, tracks like “Lifeless, Deathless” and “Labyrinthian” offer range and contrast with brief moments of calm, which makes the surrounding heaviness sound all the more monumental.  Track ten and single “Passage” incorporates some brief clean vocals effectively, much like “Tide” on the band’s previous album Välde.  “Death Spiral” displays some 1990s death metal influence and the downtempo riffs are bolstered by some double bass.  Overall, Ashen is a listen just as imposing as it is immersive, and pushes the limits of deathcore.


Creak – Depth Perception

Out of the bands releasing their first album in August 2023, U.K. hardcore newcomers Creak displayed the most versatility.  The band unleashed their explosive debut Depth Perception on Prosthetic Records, following up their 2020 EP Bigger Picture.  Notably, this album was produced and mixed by former Loathe guitarist Connor Sweeney.  Fans of Loathe, as well as bands like Vein.FM, Alpha Wolf, and Graphic Nature, should find plenty to enjoy here.  Lyrically, this album explores emotions of desperation and trauma, and was specifically inspired by Jack Dunn’s mother’s battle with cancer.  In his words, Depth Perception “focuses on dealing with family illness and trauma, and for me personally my internal struggle in a lot of those situations. Feeling guilty about my own emotions, and going over things in a circle in my own head, trying to get to a point where I can try to become comfortable with them. The album was a way for me to get a lot of that negativity out.”

Throughout its runtime, Depth Perception remains aggressive, and incorporates nu metal influences.  The chaotic first two tracks “Crossroads” and “Hare in the Woods” are relentless, followed by the short ambient instrumental “An Endless Black” that hints at the twists and turns to come.  From that point, Creak starts adding in ambience, melody and contrast throughout the record, though the sound remains heavy.  Songs like “Harrow” and “Cold Shoulder” adeptly contrast the chaos with brief moments of atmosphere.  A curveball arrives in track seven “Left to Heaven”, a subdued, clean-sung track reminiscent of Vein.fm’s “20 Seconds 20 Hours”.  Meanwhile, the pair of succinct closing tracks, “I’m Not Alone in the Dark” and “A Head Full of Rain” provide a heavy, haunting finish.


Silent Planet – “Collider”

Last Thursday, Silent Planet released a third single, “Collider” from their upcoming album Superbloom.  Part of the inspiration for the album’s experimental sound comes from the lore of “Lost Cove” in Humboldt County, California, a region known for paranormal encounters and UFO sightings.  The aforementioned Buster Odeholm (Humanity’s Last Breath, Vildhjarta) mixed this record, while guitarist Mitch Stark contributed to the production. As with their July 21 single, “Antimatter”, Garrett Russell sings all lead vocals, both sung and screamed.  “Collider” is considerably heavier than “Antimatter”, though not as chaotic as “:Signal:”.  The variety of the material so far, which displays experimentation while remaining true to Silent Planet’s identity, indicates Superbloom will be a diverse album.   The occasional synths Mitch adds to the mix, combined with Garrett’s dynamic vocal performance, give “Collider” a sense of accessibility without forsaking the band’s cathartic, heavy signature style.   “Antimatter” already helped break the band through to a wider audience with its ambience and dark electronic undercurrent, and “Collider” has a similar crossover potential.


Spiritbox – “Jaded”

Spiritbox rose to prominence in 2020 through the release of many stellar singles like “Holy Roller”, achieving an impressive 66 million streams before the release of their 2021 album Eternal Blue.   The band has carved out their niche with a sound that splits the difference between djent and alternative metal, and no other band sounds exactly like them.   Currently, Spiritbox shows no signs of slowing down.  Their new song “Jaded” displays both aspects of Courtney LaPlante’s voice.  Her memorable, melodic hook balances nicely with her screamed vocals and the backdrop of djent guitar riffs.  This new single will appear on Spiritbox’s November 3 EP The Fear of Fear (same release date as Silent Planet’s album!)  “Jaded” has already gained some traction, landing a place on the Spotify Viral 50 last week.  The single has surpassed 3 million streams on the platform, while the video has surpassed 1.8 million views within one month.  This success speaks to Spiritbox’s wide-ranging appeal as a band that connects with a large, diverse audience.


Spirit Adrift – Ghost at the Gallows

Since forming in 2015, Spirit Adrift has now released five studio albums to date, plus a covers album.  This prolific band is led by Nathan Garrett, former guitarist for Arizona death metal band Gatecreeper.  On 2020’s Enlightened in Eternity, the band transitioned from doom metal to a classic heavy metal sound.  Spirit Adrift’s influences – which include names like Black Sabbath, Thin Lizzy, Metallica and Alice in Chains – are diverse and evident.  Flashy guitar work and riffs abound on the speed metal of tracks like “Hanged Man’s Revenge”.  In contrast, “These Two Hands” is predominantly acoustic, exhibiting folk and blues influences.  “Ghost at the Gallows” is a fantastic closer, with a multifaceted progressive heavy metal structure that wouldn’t sound out of place on Machine Head’s Through the Ashes of Empires.  This mournful eight-minute title track features a beautiful passage of ambient guitars and subdued vocals halfway through, before concluding with a return of thunderous riffs.

While the band’s throwback sound is fun, Spirit Adrift offers more substance than just escapism.  Enlightened in Eternity was thematically about overcoming struggle, with this positive outlook evident on “Ride Into the Light” and “Stronger Than Your Pain”.  Ghost at the Gallows, an album about mortality and the specter of death, represents the process of navigating the stages of grief to acceptance.   Nathan Garrett explained that writing this album helped him, as “the deepest aim of [Spirit Adrift] lyrics is to find good in the bad, strength in weakness, and hope in darkness.”


Worm Shepherd – The Sleeping Sun

Blackened deathcore band Worm Shepherd get more dynamic and melancholic on this excellent EP.  Each of the five tracks here is distinctive from the rest and contributes something different.  The opener “The Frozen Lake (The Ruined)”, which was released as a standalone single in March, is stylistically similar to Dimmu Borgir and sets the tone with plenty of contrast and dynamics.  A backing choir and broad soundscape provides a backdrop for Devin Duarte’s feral snarls.  Duarte proves to be a versatile vocalist, and succeeds whether he’s producing screams, guttural growls, or melancholic singing.

The fast-paced, emotive “The Dying Heavens” will remind listeners of Lorna Shore, while “The Broken Earth” follows the Cradle of Filth route of black metal with eerie synths that pair well with the guitar riffs and vocals.  “The Tortured Path” follows a slower pace without compromising on brutality and heaviness.  “The Parting Sea” rounds out the album, and is a melancholy, majestic closer.  With all five tracks close to five minutes or longer, all these ideas feel like natural experimentation, and have room to develop and transition from one passage to the next.  The Sleeping Sun is easily Worm Shepherd’s most dynamic and nuanced release to date, and marks them as a name to watch in the deathcore scene.

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